Earlier this week, noted Scripture scholar and author Dr. Scott Hahn delivered the inaugural lecture in Christendom College’s Major Speaker Program, entitled, “The Bible, the Eucharist, and the New Evangelization.” The press release from Christendom College provides some highlights from Hahn’s address:
“We face the task of re-evangelizing the de-Christianized,” Hahn said. “The cause of de-Christianization has been this oppressive secularization, which doesn’t just cause us to forget the faith, but it causes us to become more and more distant from those structures that make it real.”
Hahn explained that just as human love and relationships lead to a sacrament—Matrimony—so too does our love and relationship with God lead to a sacrament—the Eucharist. He noted that it was Blessed Pope John Paul who first called for the new evangelization to be based on the Eucharist and, citing and a paper by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, he said, “all evangelizers proclaim Christ, but Catholic evangelizers proclaim a Eucharistic Christ.”
“But there is something else that is new about the new evangelization,” Hahn said. “It isn’t just for clergy. It isn’t just for missionaries. It isn’t just for those who go out to the foreign lands. It’s for each and every single one of us. Not only to go out and share the faith, but also to allow ourselves to be evangelized and converted.”
Hahn debunked the myth that St. Francis said, “preach the Gospel at all times and use words when necessary,” saying that there is no proof or historical record of the saint saying those words to his friars.
“I would want to say this to those who use that as an excuse,” he continued. “Just look in the mirror some evening and ask yourself, ‘Am I so upright, so virtuous, so compelling that all people really need to do is just keep their eyes on me and my life and that should be sufficient to give them the grace of conversion?’ Before you answer that question yourself, ask your spouse or your roommate. You may be in for a surprise.”
Hahn said that Catholics must not only recognize their need to evangelize, but also their need to be evangelized themselves in their family life and marriages.
“Conversion is life long,” he said. “It is ongoing. It is ever deepening. It is daily. And it is also difficult.”
Concluding, Hahn said that all Catholics are involved in the new evangelization, but very few Catholics are going to be equipped like Christendom students.
“Very few Catholics are ever going to be launched like Christendom grads,” he said. “Let me just ask you those old questions: if you don’t, who will? And if you wait, when will it happen? And if you say ‘yes,’ I got to tell you, stand back and watch, because God wants to do more through us than we want Him to do.”
He encouraged the students to study and pray hard and to take all that they have gained from the college out into the world.
“What you are learning here is what the world is dying for,” he said. “I hope that none of you ever get to the point where you take it for granted. This is one of the largest slices of heaven on earth.”
The entire lecture can be downloaded at Christendom on iTunes U, christendom.edu/itunesu. This past April, America magazine published an article by Hahn, “Mass Evangelization”, which covers much of the same material. In that piece, Hahn wrote,
The theme of evangelization is indeed relatively new in Catholic circles. “Evangelizing” is something we had long associated with Protestant groups that send their members door to door. When we Catholics worried about the growth of the church, we thought in terms of missions, which meant, in practical terms, sending a donation to clergy who traveled overseas. The notion of evangelization was foreign to Catholics. Though the term and its near relatives are common in the church’s documents from the second half of the 20th century, one has to strain to find it before then. In the documents of Vatican I (1869-70), the word evangelium (Latin for “Gospel”) appears only once, and only then in reference to the four written Gospels.
If one skips ahead to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), however, one will find the root evangel and its cognates—evangelize, evangelizing, evangelization—more than 200 times. These words are used to speak of the act of spreading the Good News, sharing the message and life of Jesus Christ. Something had changed between the councils. The popes noticed.
After noting the work of Paul VI regarding evangelization—notably his underappreciated apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi”—Hahn points out that John Paul II was the first to use the term “new evangelization”:
What Paul VI identified as a matter of primary importance, John Paul II made a matter of urgency. It was he who gave it a name, “the new evangelization,” and made it programmatic and pervasive.
His first use of the phrase came near the beginning of his reign. During his first return to Poland in 1979, John Paul addressed a people whose religious practice had been repressed by Communist overlords, and yet he had the audacity to preach: “A new evangelization has begun, as if it were a new proclamation, even if in reality it is the same as ever.”
The phrase seemed electric. And yet it did not come up again in his work until 1983. Then, however, it emerged as something focused, intentional and programmatic. It defined a vision. That year, speaking to the bishops of Latin America, John Paul announced that the new evangelization was to be officially launched in 1992, the 500th anniversary of the first evangelization of the Americas.
Hahn then looks at the essence of the new evangelization:
What, then, is the key to the new evangelization? I remember wondering that myself, back in 1992. As if on cue, I opened L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, and saw the headline: “Base New Evangelization on Eucharist.”
It caught my eye not only because it seemed to answer my question, but also because it made no sense to me whatsoever. Its proposal was counterintuitive. The Eucharist, after all, is for the already initiated, the folks who are showing up for Mass. Evangelization is supposed to reach outward. Yet the headline sat atop a homily by Blessed John Paul in which he referred to the Eucharist as the “beginning” (not the end!) of our outreach, “the source” and “the basis of the New Evangelization.”
Soon others picked up on this theme. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago gave an address on Catholicity and the new evangelization, and he drew the same conclusion: “All evangelizers proclaim who Christ is; Catholic evangelizers proclaim a Eucharistic Christ.”
In 2000 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told a group of catechists that the church has always begun its evangelistic efforts at the altar. “The Church always evangelizes and has never interrupted the path of evangelization. She celebrates the Eucharistic mystery every day, administers the sacraments, proclaims the word of life—the Word of God, and commits herself to the causes of justice and charity. And this evangelization bears fruit.”
The Mass reminds us that evangelization is a gift before it is a task. It is receiving before it is doing. And we cannot share what we do not first possess.